A fellow writer recently told me that he feels, “stuck trying to cut his way through the jungle.” He feels he has a great story to tell, but he has never written a book before and he doesn’t know where to begin.
He is a new writer with many old questions. In our brief discussion, he asked the following questions:
- How do you even write a book?
- How long does a chapter have to be?
- How long does it have to be to qualify as an autobiography?
To each question, I gave the same answer I would had he asked what kind of underwear senior citizens need: “Depends.”
But maybe I should have answered: “It doesn’t matter.”
It doesn’t matter how to write a book, if you don’t actually sit down and do it.
It doesn’t matter if your chapter is 3 or 33 pages, if the content is not compelling.
It doesn’t matter if your autobiography “qualifies” as an autobiography, if your 300 page final product “qualifies” as gibberish.
He didn’t know where to begin, so he was asking massive, general questions. He wanted to know about procedures, volume and requirements.
Those are intimidating things to have floating around in your brain.
He was so concerned about how to write a big, scary book (and I don’t mean a scary book, like Goosebumps) that he was making it seem even bigger and scarier by the questions he was trying to answer.
I have a hunch that he was asking those questions because it is easier to look at how-to books from the library than it is to sit down and start writing. If he checks out three books about how to write an autobiography, he can convince himself that he’s putting in the work and not wasting time.
While research is important, what he is doing is simply wandering aimlessly in the Amazon, rather than putting together a plan to cut through the brush (to keep with his jungle analogy).
He feels stuck because he is asking questions he can’t answer.
Instead, he should be asking questions that only he can answer.
Based on hearing an outline of his story, here’s what he should be asking:
- What are the details of my story about working with Robin Williams? (he did that)
- What were the struggles of raising four kids as a single parent after having two wives die? (he did that too)
Those are questions that actually have answers. And better yet, he is the best person to answer them.
This isn’t to say he won’t he get stuck as he writes those stories. He will. Again and again.
But, by asking those questions he is much more likely to find the answers he needs.
We all have questions. Thinking too much about the questions keep us stuck. Get unstuck by asking the questions that you are the best person to answer.
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